Don’t Look Up, the Academy Award-nominated film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, is one of Netflix’s most-watched movies this year. For good reason. It is the most potent political satire in recent memory — but not in the way it intends. The apocalyptic asteroid depicted hurtling toward Earth isn’t an appropriate metaphor for climate change, as the filmmakers imagine, but rather for nuclear war.
The proxy war the U.S. is fighting against Russia in Ukraine may escalate into a nuclear holocaust, but as in the movie, Americans refuse to admit it. President Biden recently warned the prospect of nuclear “Armageddon” is greater than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly promised Russia will use nuclear weapons to defend its territorial gains in Ukraine if needed. Alexander Venediktov, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, warned last week that Ukraine’s pending admittance to NATO “would mean a guaranteed escalation to World War Three.”
Where’s the corresponding urgency among American political leaders to negotiate and de-escalate this threat? Nowhere to be found. Biden said last week that neither he nor any G7 leader would negotiate with Putin over Ukraine.
The US has spent more than $66 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine this year. That figure exceeds Russia’s entire 2021 military budget. Who knows the extent of America’s strategic and intelligence commitment? The Oliver Stone documentary Ukraine on Fire indicates US involvement in the country is significant.
Earlier this year, President Biden smirkingly promised to “bring an end” to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, leading some commentators to suggest the US may have been responsible for its recent destruction. The US government recently stockpiled $290 million worth of nuclear radiation sickness medication.
This is madness. Americans are walking toward nuclear conflict without robust public debate. Russia, of course, bears full moral responsibility for starting this conflict. But is this principle worth risking nuclear conflict over? Americans have no deep concern over what flag flies in the Donbas, a region contested for hundreds of years. The fate of a handful of pro-Russian eastern oblasts in a corrupt and anti-democratic Ukraine is not a hill to die on.
Diplomacy is the only way out of this bad situation. Next month’s G20 meeting in Indonesia provides the perfect opportunity. According to a recent poll conducted by Data for Progress, Americans support a negotiated peace even if it involves Ukrainian concessions by nearly a two-to-one margin.
Yet US officials prefer prolonging the conflict, ignoring President Obama’s realpolitik that Ukraine will always be in Russia’s sphere of influence because it is a proximate security concern for them and not for America. Weapons manufacturer-funded lobbyists, think tanks, and P.R. efforts, as well as a generation of reporters, editors, and blue check marks, who long for an edifying Cold War-type conflict like their fathers’, are greasing the tank sprockets.
Where is the antiwar left to make a case for peace? They’ve largely been subsumed by today’s Democratic Party, which made a Faustian bargain in a state of blind hatred of President Trump to accept neocons into their coalition in return for allowing them to influence the party’s foreign policy.
The biggest threat of Democrats’ ridiculous three-year campaign to paint Trump as a Manchurian candidate for Russia was that it would dramatically raise tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear-armed powers. With a handful of notable exceptions, such as Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard, who quit the Democratic Party partly over its warmongering this week, all progressives are now Hillary Clinton Democrats when it comes to foreign policy.
That leaves the likes of paleoconservative elder statesman Pat Buchanan and Fox News superhost Tucker Carlson as the most consistent voices for peace. Imagine telling that to someone in 2008 when the robust progressive peace movement carried Obama to the Democratic Party presidential nomination and presidency. This antiwar vacuum urgently needs to be filled by regular Americans who have always been skeptical of foreign wars.
At the end of “Don’t Look Up” (spoiler alert!), as the asteroid strikes, DiCaprio’s character ruefully observes, “The thing of it is: We really did have everything, didn’t we?” We truly do. The Russia-Ukraine War is not in the US national interest and not worth the ongoing threat of nuclear apocalypse.
Jordan Bruneau is a political writer in Los Angeles. A version of this column ran in the OC Register.